A Monumental Discussion: Kelly Mezurek


Woman Flipping Off Reenactor
photo courtesy of The Daily Progress, August 15, 2017

Over the last few days, I have been perplexed by the number of people who have condemned Tina Fey’s “Sheetcake” skit (SNL Weekend Update Summer Edition, August 17, 2017). Is it that people are unable to understand the multiple levels of her social commentary? Are they just too frustrated, angry, or tired of the heightened tensions surrounding the growing number of protests and attention paid to them by multiple forums? Or have they have dismissed or judged the skit without really watching it?

I am also troubled by the number of people who have so quickly shared the “Dear Martha” meme and/or video that was created by taking the photograph (above) from an incident at Charlottesville, Virginia, this last weekend and combining it with passages from a Civil War soldier’s letter in order to make a Ken Burn’s like “production.” What is the real message here? Do they seek to humiliate the people on the “wrong” side, do they want to display the superior creativity or intellect of the creators or the individuals who retweet and repost, or is it supposed to provide levity? 

Do I just not “get it” (if you were thinking that already, you are right), or am I being a hypocrite because I think that people should reevaluate the Fey skit when I have decided that I do not need to reassess the “Dear Martha” parody? You would be, in part, correct.

In the past, I have reposted and retweeted items because I felt that an article, blogpost, or a meme had a valid point and that it might make someone reconsider their views. I have given an imaginary high-five to a speaker who I agreed with, and I admit I have, a time or two, dismissed claims I thought were incorrect. Some of those actions I stand behind, but I have also begun to seriously reconsider some of the others. I no longer hit those buttons on social media as fast as I used to. I am not sure what specifically caused me to step back over the last couple of weeks, but I know that seeing people that I respect spread the “Dear Martha” meme/video has made me more concerned about my own shares. It also makes me angry and disappointed.

Because I do not believe that I am being a hypocrite when I ask that we compare these two examples for a very important reason: Tina Fey is a comedian. She is paid to use humor to make people laugh and be entertaining (whether one agrees that the skit is funny or not). The individuals I have seen helping make the “Dear Martha” meme/video “trend” are not entertainers. Most I consider intelligent and nice people, many of whom are historians. If, as so many have claimed, our expertise and knowledge are relevant and needed to help our fellow citizens by informing public discourse, why are some of us participating in a format that threatens to close down discussion?

Seriously, I would like to understand how making fun of that Confederate reenactor is going to help us have civil conversations about monuments, history, memory, commemoration, free-speech, community building, civil rights, etc., etc., etc.

I am not talking about the actual event in which the photograph was taken; I am referring to the making and sharing of memes and videos that seek something very different than discussing the what, who, how, and why of that day. I am not the one who has the wisdom and knowledge to direct where we need to go on the Confederate monument issues, but there are some voices of reason and understanding who can. I think many of the deeply contemplated and well-reasoned blog posts and essays that we have shared here on Emerging Civil War, and of others elsewhere online and in print, are making a contribution. But we are clearly far from a space of common ground where something positive can occur—so why would anyone on any of the “sides” want to risk stopping the momentum?

For those of you who have stuck with me this long, thank you. I hope in the least that I have elicited the desire to go back and reread some of the posts we have shared here on ECW. The writers have worked hard and they care deeply about providing a platform for us to talk with each other, not over or about individuals or groups. We want to have a conversation with you.

But I also ask that you seek out other opinions on the monument issue, and to consider the multiple issues connected to that debate, such as concerns of the reenactor community and of educators heading back into the primary, secondary, and college classrooms, to name just a few. Maybe you can recommend other well-reasoned pieces that we can share. I believe that there are plenty of appropriate means and methods that we can use to expand the opportunities to discuss, learn about, and advocate for the significance of American Civil War history.

To me, it is too important to risk on a “fifteen-minutes-of-fame” quick hit on social media.

8 Responses to A Monumental Discussion: Kelly Mezurek

  1. Thanks Kelly. You raise some good points that deserve discussion. As a native of Richmond, I have followed the monument removal debate with a sense of considerable sadness, because it threatens to scar my hometown. I am more troubled by the fact that the debate is being held in large measure on Facebook and Twitter, neither of which lend themselves to thoughtful or thorough discussion. Indeed, they seem to play into the very mob hysteria that has hijacked the issue.

    I am also concerned that the statue removal issue is a very slippery slope, which is has already metastasized from Confederate figures, to Jefferson, Washington and even FDR. If the yardstick for removal is that some portion of the population is offended by a given symbol or structure, then native Americans could logically take offense at the entirety of American culture as having displaced their ancestors. Rather than removal, it seems that the more prudent approach is better education or context.

    1. Steve:

      The “slippery slope” argument is a red herring, promulgated by those who want to continue honoring generals and political leaders who once wanted to expand slavery and destroy the United States of America. While a few fringe radicals call for dismantling statues of Washington and Jefferson, they represent only a handful of people. Unlike Lee, Davis et. al., Washington, Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers never advocated the disintegration of our great and blessed nation.

      1. Bob, obviously you have never read up on the founding fathers and their writings. All power was reserved to the people at that time, in each State. Even Lincoln stated he wasn’t going to let a piece of paper, the constitution, stand in his way of keeping the union together. Do your research!! The government our founding fathers gave us no longer exist and has become the one they feared with a strong, overpowering central government.

  2. Steve: I understand that some are calling for removal of everything that “offends” somebody but (1) these monuments are different because so many were put up to symbolize a cause and not memory/history; (2) there are plenty of people who advocate removal of these but don’t extend the remedy to others and (3) the :slippery slope” argument is an intellectually lazy excuse (and I’m directing this generally, not at you) – every step or measure taken to do anything, no matter how worthwhile, is vulnerable to that caution, and if it prevailed we’d never do anything. Talking about education or context as an option is certainly valid. The problem is that there are quite a few who oppose removal but who refuse to educate themselves or others and because of their entrenched beliefs will battle “context” tooth and nail.

    1. Thanks John. I think the process would be helped considerably if we could all step back and take a deep breath. It would also be nice if the politicians would stop using this as a political football.

      1. Unfortunately, this is far from the only issue which cannot be the subject of reasonable discussion these days.

  3. Help me here. Is the actual ‘issue’ now centered around how some folks view skits and such? Is it SNL/Tina Fey – good, all negative reactions to that bad? WHAT is it? As was pointed out, they’re about comedy. You express animus towards those who don’t like Fey’s skit. WHY? SNL did some spot on imitations of Barak Obama when he was POTUS. The left hated that, the right loved it. Trump is now the President, and the right hates the Alec Baldwin impersonations, and the left love them. That’s life. Those who are going to state that those who don’t like what she said “don’t understand” the ‘levels of her commentary’ sure comes across as smug and condescending to say the least. Fey’s ‘commentary’ was not about the statue issue or what transpired in Charlottesville, she wrapped some sentences about them within a typical partisan rant. THAT’S where some folks believe she lost credibility. She spewed the typical talking points of just ‘one side’. This issue is not about skits or memes, it is about actions. It’s about actions that involve removing these statues without any real, open discussions about them. It is about removing them in the dead of night, it is about removing them via mob violence. It’s about making ‘good guys’ out of some really bad actors who showed up to do battle with equally bad actors, and one of those ‘sides’ being excused for the violence and mayhem they contributed to.

    I think what is lost in this discussion, regardless of the venue, is the interpretation of what a given statue means. By having a statue, or monument, erected about a particular person, it’s often accepted that the person must have been ‘great’, as opposed to being merely important. There are lots of ‘important’ players in The Civil War who no objective person would ever label as ‘great’. There is a golden opportunity here to ignite some new interest in the War and the events that led to it, as well as the aftermath. Whether that opportunity will be seized on remains to be see. Personally, I am not optimistic that will happen.

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